UrbanFaith, published by UMI (Urban Ministries, Inc.), has teamed up with HarperCollins Christian Publishing to launch UrbanFaithStudy.com, a subscription-based digital platform with an expanding library of more than 100 video sermons and studies from well-known African American Christian voices. We know it’s hard for young adults to find churches they feel welcomed in and even harder to find leaders they can trust to teach the Word in a way they can hear and understand it. UrbanFaithStudy.com provides the empowering teaching you want that stays faithful while being relevant.
“I am pleased to see this robust and unique platform featuring strong voices and transformative messages by African American pastors and authors,” remarked Jeff Wright, CEO of UMI. “I know it will be a blessing to many people.”
UrbanFaithStudy.com offers culturally relevant, topical sermons delivered by pastors such as Bishop Joseph W. Walker, III; Dr. Dominique Robinson; and husband and wife team Pastor Gabby Cudjoe-Wilkes and Pastor Andrew Wilkes. Bishop Walker is the International Presiding Bishop of the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship and pastor of the historic 30,000-member Mount Zion Baptist Church in Nashville, TN. Dr. Robinson is a religious scholar, theological educator, preacher, writer, activist, and advocate who serves as an assistant professor of preaching at the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, TX. HBCU and Ivy League-educated pastors Gabby Cudjoe-Wilkes and Andrew Wilkes co-founded the Double Love Experience Church in Brooklyn, NY, a growing congregation of believers committed to the liberating, love-powered ministry of Jesus.
“What an extraordinary opportunity to house digital archives of hope & possibility in the era of a global pandemic, racial reckoning & resilience. It is my prayer that the sermons we offer will help those who hear them know that God has not left them. Even in these times. To share this in partnership with two brands that curate accessible & timely content: UMI & HarperCollins [Christian] is a dream.” – -Pastor Gabby Cudjoe Wilkes
UrbanFaithStudy.com will also launch book study curricula for believers looking for deeper engagement and group study content that engages the church with culturally relevant topics. These curricula are by well-known African American voices, including New York Times bestselling author Jemar Tisby; beloved author and speaker Crystal Evans Hurst; Grammy Award-winning artist Lecrae; and Bible teacher, pastor, and author, Jada Anae Edwards.
“When teaming up with UMI more than a year ago, we knew creating a video platform to host engaging, life-changing biblical content would showcase both organizations’ ability to reach new audiences,” said Mark Schoenwald, president and CEO of HarperCollins Christian Publishing. “The church is evolving, becoming more dependent on technology to deliver sermons, Bible studies, and other curricula. When designing UrbanFaithStudy.com, we used our strengths to achieve more than we could if we had each approached the project separately.”
UrbanFaithStudy.com will serve many consumers, including church congregations, divinity students, young preachers, and individuals seeking to understand how faith informs cultural engagement. The monthly subscription is $5.95 for individuals and $19.95 for churches. To subscribe, visit UrbanFaithStudy.com.
The first truly African-American musical form, the “Spirituals,” took shape in the 17th and 18th centuries within the generations of slaves born into the tough American experience. Music was a daily part of their survival and sustenance.
Spirituals were sung “a cappella,” that is, without instrumental accompaniment. Voices were blended over rhythms provided by clapping hands, stamping feet and makeshift percussion. The words and melodies were improvised, not written down and never sung the same way twice. The singers remained untrained in the formalities of music.
“Its truth dies under training like flowers under hot water.”
These early songs, over a hundred or more years later, gave rise to 20th century gospel music as well as secular genres including blues and jazz, R&B (rhythm and blues) and doo-wop, a style of ‘50s vocal group pop.
These folk preachers blended homespun sermon and song to offer life lessons on how to survive in a world of inequality and virulent racism.
While the folk preachers may have perfected their preaching skills in Southern churches, they broadened their reach through phonographs records. From the mid-1920s well into the Depression, there were roughly 85 preachers whose hundreds of singing sermons were recorded and heard throughout the black community nationwide via 78-rpm records.
Their records were advertised in nationally distributed black newspapers, such as The Pittsburgh Courier and The Chicago Defender. Their names were famous within the African-American community and some of the better sellers included Rev. J. C. Burnett, Rev. T.N.T. Burton, Rev. A.W. Nix, and Rev. Sundown Jesse. The most prolific of all was Rev. J. M. Gates of Atlanta, Georgia. His more than a hundred sermons were released on a variety of labels – Paramount, Columbia, Vocalion, Okeh, and Victor – that specialized in records that catered to “race.”
The case of Rev. Gates
What gave Gates prominence, besides his stellar performances, were his sensational titles, many drawn from Biblical verse, others from African-American vernacular. The titles enticed people to buy the record to find out more.
“Dead Cat on the Line” was Rev. Gates taking on marriage infidelity. He opened the sermon by saying,
“If a child is no way like his father, there’s a dead cat on the line.”
His reference was to a time when a cat might get up on the power lines and die from electrocution, cutting off telegraph signals so no messages could get through. The phrase meant “we’re not communicating here.” But with the dead cat festering up there, Gates was also alluding to the problems of infidelity.
“Kinky Hair is No Disgrace” spoke to demoralization stemming from negative value placed on “negro” features.“ Gates preached,
“Skin and hair don’t make the inside of man or woman good…Remember that God looks on the inside and man looks on the outside…And a whole lot of this hair straightening is just strictly so men can see it…You needn’t worry about your hair…You straighten your heart or your brain…Get something straight on the inside. You know it!”
And his masterpiece was based on a line from the Gospel of Matthew, “Straining at a Gnat and Swallowing a Camel.” “Straining at a gnat,” implied getting worked up about small matters, and “swallowing a camel,” was a reminder to people about missing what was truly important right in front of them, in this case the incongruities of racism. He sang,
“You! You negro-haters. You that can’t sit with him on the street car. You that can’t eat at the same table with him. I’m talking about you who can’t sit in your own automobile with him. Aah, but I’ll tell you what you can do. You can eat what they cook. Sleep in their bed. You can let them drive your car while you sit in the rear and he handle your life in his hands. You’re straining at a gnat and swallowin’ a camel.”
The music of Rev. Gates and his fellow preachers provided the sonic moments for the religious seeds of the budding Civil Rights Movement.